Thursday, 19 August 2010

Academic Dumbing Down

In the wake of yet another year of A-level improvement where magically this year's cohort of students was even better than the last, let me tell you how my department does things.

When we started our first year on my course there were 82 of us. The majority of us had been subject to interviews, real interviews, with academic questions not "so how do you like our building?". After our exam results were released it was clear that a significant proportion would not advance to the second year of the course. In fact 25% of the year failed and had to either do retakes the subsequent year or redo the entire year. This is in the light of what our department also decided to do:
  • The pass rate was raised from 30% to 40% on all exams,
  • The majority of all tests were put into a new format where you had to do the questions provided. I.e. you could not choose which questions to do based on what particular part of the syllabus you knew, you had to do the entire thing.
  • The following year all exams had entered into this new format.
The total fail rate on the course is between 25-30% which means that in the end fourth year there are only roughly 55-60 people left. The rest had been weeded out. This is the point I am trying to put forth. You see, instead of making the examinations easier, like the government would have done, afraid of offending someone's intelligence, the department made it harder because the industry had told them that some of the department's graduates were not up to scratch on some parts of the course. That would not do, if it did not improve industry would stop favouring my universities' graduates. Even if you magically manage to make it onto a tough university course with having barely lifted a finger, it is not going to fly, not at the university and not in real life. You are immediately categorised as being stupid, average or clever. Me, I am probably hovering around the 'stupid-average' border but at least I know that.

Even though the government and their bloody quangos massage the statistics in favour of their policies, British students are still tumbling down the international league tables in maths, science and literacy. They are not becoming dumber but the system sure as hell is. What is more, you enter students under the false premise that they are actually able enough to pursue a proper university education in a real subject like English or Physics, when really they are not. I am not saying this because I am an arrogant git who thinks he is better than the rest no; I too failed one subject and had to do a resist. This I am not proud of but it just goes to show that real courses and real universities are hard, some of them, very hard. They are certainly not places for people who are complacent about their work ethic.

You need to be able to tell individuals that they are not good enough, that they need to work harder in order to comprehend the material, otherwise you risk not only failing the individual but the collective as well. It is abundantly clear which side the government has chosen. Socialism UK hard at work again, what was once an absolute measure of academic achievement has been all but destroyed in pursuit of an educational egalitarianism that was neither obtainable nor desirable. It is hardly surprising that more top schools are opting for alternatives such as the International Baccalaureate and the Pre-U.

And who is to blame for keeping the poor out of university? The middle-class of course. I thought, as did the Telegraph, that with a new government, this sort of self-destroying (not 'defeating') rhetoric would end with what appears to be seen as a "sensible" government. No. It would appear that only underdogs are able to be honourable in the face of certain failure. A man must be big enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them. Though I suspect that it was not men who destroyed the educational system of this country. Call them anything but men for that they were not. Men, in the most serene sense of the word, apply their actions for the benefit of others, admit their mistakes and are quiet about their successes. Those are the virtues of a true statesman and we have not had one in years.


Anonymous said...

It sounds very sensible to me. Fancy pieces of paper that convey wondrous titles upon the bearer thereof are of little use when the fertiliser hits the rotary air-conditioner.

All too often then, in my own experience, it is left to the 'also-rans', the possessors of National Certificates and, God forbid, City and Guilds qualifications, to actually get things running again.

But, the race is over; all must have prizes, even under the 'new meritocracy' of the ConDemned.

Witterings From Witney said...

Yet again, nice post 13th and well said.

Seems the Coalition still have to repeal this 'no-one can fail, everyone must win' policy then.

It seems to have escaped the political elite that we all have our 'station in life' - some are brillant, some are average and some are not-so-average. Ergo we can't all be university grads - ie leaking taps still need fixing......

Perhaps education ought to revert to the academic stream, the technical stream (ie trades) and the general stream.

We cant all be bloody Einsteins!